DANVILLE, Va. – The No. 9 Salisbury University baseball team kept its 2017 campaign alive with a pair of dramatic wins in elimination games on Saturday at the NCAA Tournament South Regional, defeating Rowan University in 11 innings, 8-7, and topping the No. 1 team in the nation, LaGrange College, 4-2.
Salisbury 8, Rowan 7 (11 inn.)
The Profs (29-18) drew first blood, scoring twice off Salisbury starter Connor Reeves in the first inning, but Salisbury answered in the bottom of the third inning when senior Pete Grasso doubled to score Scott Ardoin who reached on a double.
Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Robbie Jones opened the inning with a double to left field before scoring when freshman Justin Meekins singled to center field, tying the game. Salisbury loaded the bases with an intentional walk to Grasso and Jack Barry getting hit by a pitch. Tom LaBriola stepped to the plate with two outs and nearly gave Salisbury the lead, driving a ball to the right side, but Rowan second baseman Alex Kokos made a diving stop on the ball and threw to first to get LaBriola by half a step, ending the inning.
The Profs struck back in the top of the fifth, putting runners at the corners with no outs, and a safety squeeze brought the go-ahead run in for the 3-2 edge before a two-run, two-out triple put Rowan ahead by three and ending Reeves' day.
The Sea Gulls came back in the bottom of the fifth and got the first two batters on base with singles from Jay Perry and Brad Keith. After the first out, the pair moved into scoring position on a wild pitch but a strikeout and groundout ended the threat.
The three-run advantage remained until the bottom of the sixth when Ardoin opened the frame with a double and came home on another double by Barry cutting the deficit to 5-3. Barry scored when Perry singled up the middle, getting the Gulls within one run.
The Profs were held off the board by senior Micah Wells, who came on in relief of Reeves, working his first three innings without allowing a run or a hit, giving Salisbury a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh when Grasso singled to left, scoring Jones to tie the game.
After a quick 1-2-3 inning in the top of the eighth from Wells, Salisbury pulled ahead for the first time in the home half of the inning. LaBriola walked to begin the eighth and moved to second on a bunt before a wild pitch moved him to third with two outs. Jones dropped a hit into right field to bring home LaBriola to give Salisbury 6-5 lead.
The Profs drew even with a run in the top of the ninth off Wells, before Salisbury's starting pitcher from Friday's game, senior Jeff Oster came on for the final two innings.
Oster surrendered a run in the top of the 11th inning, on two hits, but the Salisbury bats rallied to keep the season going.
Down 7-6 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Meekins was hit by a pitch to open the frame, and after being down 0-and-2, Ardoin battled back to a 2-and-2 count before driving a ball through the right side, just past the dive of the first baseman, putting runners at the corners.
After Ardoin stole second, putting the potential winning run in scoring position, Grasso was intentionally walked to load the bases and Barry came up with a sacrifice fly to straight away center field, nearly coming up with a walk-off grand slam. His sacrifice shot tied the game with Ardoin moving to third, prompting the Profs to intentionally walk LaBriola to load the bases, setting up Perry as the hero, when he drove a liner to left-center field, scoring Ardoin to end the contest.
Perry was one of three Sea Gulls with three hits in the game, along with Grasso and Ardoin.
Salisbury 4, LaGrange 2
In an elimination game between the top two seeds in the regional, as strong pitching often becomes scarce, the final game of Saturday was a pitchers' duel with Oster coming back for his third appearance and second start in two days against the Panthers' Josh Smith.
LaGrange (40-6) got on the board first against Oster, who worked seven innings. It was the only run the Panthers would manage until the sixth inning, allowing Salisbury (34-10) to take a 2-1 lead.
Meekins singled in the third to score Jones, tying the game at 1-1, before Jones was involved in the go-ahead run in the fifth, singling to begin the inning and scoring on a groundout by Ardoin. Jones either scored or drove in six of Salisbury's 12 runs during the two wins on Saturday.
After the Panthers scored a single run in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game, Salisbury bounced back in the top of the seventh, taking advantage of a LaGrange error which allowed Jones to get to second base with one out. Pinch hitter Simon Palenchar singled to center field to plate Jones for the 3-2 Salisbury lead.
Salisbury added an insurance run in the top of the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly by Perry, scoring Barry for the 4-2 edge.
Oster worked into the bottom of the eighth, giving up a leadoff double in the bottom of the inning before being lifted for Grasso. Grasso finished off the game, stranding the bases loaded in the eighth and leaving two runners on when he got a pair of strikeouts to finish off the bottom of the ninth and his fourth save of the year.
Oster improved to 10-0 on the year and earned his second win of the day, going seven innings while surrendering just nine hits and two runs, striking out five along the way.
With the victories, the Sea Gulls will move on to face Roanoke College on Sunday, May 21 beginning at noon. The sixth-seeded Maroons remain unbeaten in the regional, having started their run with a 15-5 win against the Sea Gulls on Thursday. Roanoke needs just one win to claim the regional title, while Salisbury will need to sweep two games on Sunday to claim the championship.
The winner of the regional will head to Appleton, Wisconsin for the NCAA Division III World Series beginning on Thursday, May 25.